Deal or no deal – Bruges Group conference

Bruges Group Conference

Will Britain make a Brexit deal with Brussels? What should the UK prioritise? Where should it draw the red lines? When is the cost of any deal too high? This conference will answer those important questions.

Saturday, 4th November 2017
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AGENDA:
Registration and Coffee: 10.30am
Morning Session: 11am – 1pm
Lunch: 1pm – 2pm
Afternoon Session: 2pm – 4pm
Refreshments: 4pm – 4.15pm

Cameron’s legacy of confusion

David Cameron didn’t expect to lose last year’s referendum and banned the Civil Service from devising any exit strategy. That became an excuse for a nine month gestation period by Mrs. May which delivered only repetitions of “Brexit means Brexit”. The official leave campaign, vote.leave, refused to devise an exit strategy either. The only serious research on offer before the referendum which charted a comprehensive exit strategy was Flexcit, which recommended the EEA/EFTA route as a transitional arrangement. Since the referendum, only one further independent, detailed attempt has been made to tackle the issues involved – the Bruges Group’s What will it look like? which claimed that another exit route was possible within the time limit, while recognising a number of potential obstacles.

A recent post by Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service painted a very upbeat picture of the work being done by the newly-created Department for Exiting the EU but he didn’t go into any detail about exit strategy. This department has far more staff available than the Bruges Group so it is rather worrying that we still know so little.

As our Chairman, Edward Spalton, has pointed out, when we joined the EEC in 1973, businesses were being briefed over a year in advance about the forthcoming changes.  Recently, a number of businessmen  who  met with government ministers, including the Brexit secretary David Davis, were very concerned about the lack of  detail they had been given. Similar reservations have come from groups ranging from the chemical manufacturers and the Federation of Small Business – the latter including a number of long-standing Brexit supporters.

Mr Davis unquestionably feels very confident about the UK’s prospects outside the EU. In the long term he could well be right. To be free of control by Brussels and able to manage our own affairs will be an inestimable benefit – but only if we are able to chart a sensible course through the choppy waters of what are shaping up to be far more complex negotiations than many Brexiteers ever imagined.

The stakes could not be higher for Mrs May and the Conservative Party.  There will be no backing out of Brexit.  Even though only a minority of MPs campaigned for leave, the majority of her party’s activists are staunch leavers and would not countenance any sort of betrayal. The unexpectedly strong showing by Labour in last month’s General Election only adds to the pressure. Any failure to deliver a competent Brexit as good as guarantees Mr Corbyn the keys to No. 10 in 2022 – or perhaps earlier.

Leaving  the EU  is the biggest challenge Mrs May and her team will face. We do not know what is going on behind the scenes but  the government  needs to have sufficient known policies in view to reassure the public, to avoid disrupting  economic expectations  and to deny traction to the campaign to rejoin the EU. Advice to all industries concerning the effects of government plans needs to be given in plenty of time for them to adjust.

To put it another way, our EU membership has been like a malignant, cancerous tumour. Untreated, it would have led to certain death. That’s why we were right to vote to leave. However, the complex task of cutting it out should  be done by a team of top surgeons who not only know what they are doing but can communicate their knowledge and confidence to the people. At the moment, even though there seems to be a growing agreement that some sort of transitional deal is necessary, no details at all have emerged.

Membership of the Single Market, even as an interim arrangement, has been ruled out and significantly, it was the Chancellor Philip Hammond, one of the “doves” in government, who stated this explicitly on the Andrew Marr show last Sunday. So what will it include? Catherine McGuinness, the de facto leader of the City of London’s municipal body, says Britain and the EU must agree the outlines of any transition before the end of the year or as many as 15,000 banking jobs could leave London.

The sense of lack of concentration was not helped by a picture of Michel Barnier and his EU team turning up  for the second round of Brexit talks with  great thick folders of notes while David Davis and his associates had none.

So will some positive signal emerge to calm worried businesses  – and indeed, worried Brexit supporters? If so, the sooner the better, as the opponents of Brexit are gleefully cashing in on the  lack of direction,  communicated by default.   Most people just want to see Brexit done and dusted with reasonable assurance of that steadily performing  economy on which all our livelihoods depend.

 

The great trade muddle

“We are leaving the European Union… We are leaving the Single Market… We are leaving the Customs Union.” Theresa May has repeated these phrases on numerous occasions since her Lancaster House speech in January.  Only last week, Steve Baker, the new Brexit minister, insisted that there would be no watering down of the Brexit strategy. “It’s like putting blood in the water to even talk about the EEA,” he said. “We don’t want to be a rule taker, for all the reasons that David Cameron gave during the referendum. We mustn’t take up some of those ideas.”

The Customs Union is a red herring. It never came up during the referendum debate last year and, one suspects, it has only re-surfaced recently because some people may well not know the difference between it and the Single Market.

The Single Market is another matter. It is not true, as suggested by a number of senior EU figures  including Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator, that the four “freedoms of movement”  – goods, services, capital and people – are indivisible.  They may be for EU member states, but not for the non-EU countries in EFTA. Iceland imposed restrictions on the movement of capital when its banks collapsed and Liechtenstein still imposes restrictions on immigration from the EU. Furthermore, no Brexit campaigner suggested that the “Norway Option” or even the “Liechtenstein Solution” should be anything other than an interim arrangement to get us safely through the EU’s exit door within the Article 50 timescale.

It is certainly not an ideal arrangement, and some leave campaigners, including CIB Committee member Ian Kealey, have offered a number of reasons why it should be avoided even as a temporary solution.  Carolyn Fairbairn, the Director General of the Confederation of British Industry, which represents large employers,  has nonetheless been pushing hard for us to adopt this approach. Some leavers are naturally suspicious of an organisation which campaigned for us to stay in the EU, arguing that the real motive of the CBI is to stop us leaving the EU at all. For all the objections to re-joining EFTA and accessing the Single Market via the EEA agreement, the fact is, countries which use this model are most definitely outside the EU as this helpful comparison by CIB Committee member Anthony Scholefield illustrates

Mrs May, however, has not shown any enthusiasm for this route, although she mentioned the possibility of an interim arrangement as far back as November of last year, without going into any details. Her  recent pronouncements have been very much about the long term, stating her desire to sign a “bold and ambitious” trade deal with the EU by March 2019 and only yesterday, at the G20 summit in Hamburg, she said she wanted a “deep and special partnership with the EU, a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, so that we can continue to trade with the European Union. That’s not just in our interests in the interest of the other 27 member states as well.”

Fair enough, but only two days ago, Michel Barnier said that “There will be no business as usual.” To underscore the point, he later continued, “I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits – that is not possible.”

It has been argued that many other countries trade with the Single Market without being members of it. This is true, but they do not get 100% access nor of the benefits. There will inevitably be obstacles. Most people who have looked at this complex subject accept that being outside the Single Market will involve some loss of trade access to the EU. The big question is whether or not they can be minimalised.  The Bruges Group has come up with an alternative which, its authors claim, can be implemented in eighteen months and which would address the main concerns of business, including non-tariff barriers. However, it does not deny the presence of significant obstacles.

We do not know whether or not this report is being digested by the Civil Servants of David Davis’ department. What we can say is that there has been precious little comment from the government on its  proposals regarding this important subject. To date, the Bruges Group proposal is the most detailed study of a non-EEA  solution to the trade conundrum which would avoid the need for any interim arrangement.  If it isn’t going to be adopted but something better has been produced, it clearly hasn’t reached the ears of the CBI or some other concerned politicians who advocate our remaining in the EEA.

What is worrying is the lack of a detailed response to these concerns. Could it be that even a year on from the referendum, the Government still doesn’t have any idea of what its Brexit trade strategy should be? When we joined the EEC (as it was) over forty years ago, businesses were given increasingly detailed guidance, starting over a year before entry. If the transition to independence is to be seamless, businesses need adequate notice to comply with whatever the new arrangements will be. Regulation has become a lot more complex since 1973 and the process of informing them of what needs to be done will surely need to start no later than March next year.

With some economists suggesting that the UK economy is slowing, some leave campaigners have expressed a concern that Brexit may not actually happen given the additional challenges which lie ahead. We do not believe this to be the case as any backtracking on Brexit would be suicidal for the government and the Conservative Party. Nonetheless, the Article 50 clock is ticking away and if the government is still in a muddle about trade, we may end up going down the EEA/EFTA route as an “off the peg” solution which, due to time constraints, could end up by default as the only way of preventing a “cliff edge” scenario in March 2019.

Brexit and the Union

Invitation to a reception discussing:
Brexit and the Union
Monday, 22nd May
1pm until 4pm

With the speaker;
Rt Hon. Arlene Foster, MLA
First Minister of Northern Ireland (2015 – 2017)
Discussing Brexit and the Union

Arlene Foster spoke of the EU Referendum result;
“The democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom marks a new and fresh beginning for our country and I believe offers us the opportunity to build a new, hopeful, and more democratic nation.”

 

 

Building a post-Brexit Britain

 

Building a post-Brexit Britain
Monday, 24th April
6.45 for 7pm
With the MPs Owen Paterson and Philip Davies and the Broadcaster Esther McVey

The speakers;
Rt Hon. Owen Paterson MP
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 2012 until 2014
Owen Paterson will discuss Fishing and Farming.

Philip Davies MP
Conservative Member of Parliament for Shipley
Philip Davies will discuss immigration

Rt Hon. Esther McVey
Minister of State for Employment (2013-2015)
Broadcaster and businesswoman

 

 

A tribute to the late Helen Szamuely

With Helen’s death, one of the great freedom fighters of our time has passed on.

Born in Moscow, she was the daughter of a father who bravely opposed Soviet Communism; Helen understood it from an early age, and fought it long before the Wall came down.

She came to the UK at the age of fourteen and with a First in History and Russian from the University of Leeds and a doctorate from the University of Oxford, her knowledge of Soviet history and what it did to the Warsaw Pact countries was encyclopaedic.

So she also saw through the project of European integration from its inception, and was a founder member of the Anti-Federalist League, UKIP and several other resistance groups, also serving as Head of Research for the Bruges Group.

Slightly more surprisingly to many, she was also omnivorous in her love of the arts and could often be seen in the evening at private views for a wide range of styles.

Helen had a first class and incisive mind, and could be impatient with the less gifted, especially when she thought that even they should have been able to grasp the point she was making. But she was never unkind, and her generous sense of humour always carried the day.

We have lost a brave and good woman, and my thoughts are with her daughter, Katharine.

(This tribute first appeared on the Brexit Central website. Dr Szamuely was also a member of the Campaign for an Independent Britain’s Committee for many years.)